Curbside Classic: 1968 Rambler American 220 – Plain White Wrapper

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(first posted 1/25/2014)      Certain makes and models take a lot of flak from armchair enthusiasts when they are perceived to be plain or boring. Corolla, Camry, Accord, Malibu–it goes on and on. But let’s face it, many folks don’t give a flip about their marque’s heritage, prowess in racing or “cool” appearance. I’ll take it even further: some people just want a comfy seat to haul them and their family to work, to school, on vacations and to the grocery store. For folks who answer “white” when asked what kind of car they drive, may I present this 1968 Rambler American?

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It is basic–and I do mean basic–especially in its entry-level 220 trim. When I was approaching driving age in the mid-’90s, though I was pretty sure I’d be getting a Volvo, it ideally had to have power windows, power brakes, power steering, air conditioning and an automatic transmission. Here and now, in 2014, just try to find a new automobile that doesn’t have all that stuff. A few are there for those who seek them out, but they are very rare. We are so spoiled today with modern cars.

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The 220 was available only as a two or four-door sedan, listed at $1946 and $2024, respectively. For comparison’s sake, the top-of-the-line Rogue two-door hardtop (comparable to the 440, but not marketed as such) had a base price of $2244. The American 440 series was the top trim level for four-doors and offered the sole wagon. The rather nice-looking blue interior pictured above is from a 440.

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An American 440 four-door was much more livable for about $140 above the 220 sedan, with its additional exterior chrome, full wheel covers, carpeting and plusher upholstery and door panels. While it dated to 1964, the 440/Rogue was quite an attractive compact. But for those fine folks looking for basic transportation and nothing more…

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…there was this! The American 220 four-door sedan included as standard equipment four wheels and tires, two bench seats, a steering wheel and an engine: such decadence!

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Seriously, the sparse equipment list featured a Weather-Eye heater, front armrests, front seat foam cushions (presumably the rear seat used springs and/or horsehair) and a dome light. That’s it! Of course, many options could be added on, but that would defeat the whole point of purchasing a 220 vis-à-vis a 440 or Rogue.

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Sorry, no MyFordNissanTouchPod here! You have a seat and steering wheel, and pedals. Oh, and doors to keep rain, snow and slush off of you. But at least the interior isn’t black or gray. In fact, I rather like the patterned cloth with the black and white trim. Although this car’s original owner sprung for the automatic transmission, no radio was installed.

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The 1968 Americans were introduced along with all the other AMC cars on September 27, 1967. While the original 1964 version had tunneled front fenders and headlights–later reused on the 1974-78 Matador coupe–a refresh in 1966 squared up the front clip and hood.

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1968 Americans received a new grille, relocated “American” nameplates and other minor trim changes. And like all other domestics, they received the newly-mandated side marker lights on the front and rear fenders.

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The 220 most appealed to folks wanting simple transportation and no frills. The American may have been a bit dated compared to, say, a Valiant (redesigned for ’67) or Nova (brand-new in ’68), but it was reliable with its big Six and had no complicated engineering or accessories. 16,595 220 four-doors and 53,824 220 two-doors were sold, making this sedan the less commonly seen variant, then and now.

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Most of you know me as a huge Volvo, Lincoln and Brougham fan, but the honest truth is I like pretty much anything. Even if it is a vehicle I would never own, I will pore all over an interesting vehicle in a parking lot or at a show, so when I saw the tell-tale boxy shape of a ’60s Rambler from John Deere Road, I had to check it out!

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I love this car’s honesty. No pretentiousness here: simple lines, ample glass area, good room and space inside, and a true-blue straight six! And I really like those dog-dish hubcaps.

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Salt eats cars where I live, so seeing any car pre-1975 outside of a car show–is relatively rare. But a genuine Rambler is a true find. I was thrilled to check out this survivor and would happily ride in this back seat, just to experience riding in a Rambler. I wouldn’t even care that there was no armrest!

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Here you can see that radio blanking plate I mentioned earlier. I also like the gauges on this car–rather uncommon to see round gauges on such a basic car. Strip speedometers were usually seen on everything but muscle and pony cars in the ’60s.

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This was the last year the American was branded as such; the 1969 model was little changed but was now simply called “Rambler” rather than Rambler American. Such a nice, honest little car. I hope its owner keeps it just as it is–a car from a time when basic really meant basic!

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